A similar quality motivates "Baader-Meinhof," with its balance (or is that tension?) between art and experience. Here, a woman finds herself fixated on Richter's hyper-realist paintings of the 1970s West German terrorist gang, dead in their prison cells by suicide pact. "What they did had meaning," she tells a man she meets in the museum. "It was wrong but it wasn't blind and empty. I think the painter's searching for this." More implications: If the Baader-Meinhof actions weren't "blind and empty," what does that mean for the rest of us? And, by extension, what does it mean for the artist, whether Richter or DeLillo, who looks at terror as the substance of art?
This, in many ways, is the same question the nun is asking, made more resonant because DeLillo is addressing the issue of image, of representation, and how it changes our perceptions by filtering, or focusing, what we see. Such a notion emerges, as well, in his epic "Underworld," published in 1997, a year before "Baader-Meinhof," and the 2010 novel "Point Omega," part of which also revolves around a show at the Museum of Modern Art. As DeLillo noted in 1997, "[T]his is the way we know much of what we know in this culture at this time. … It's as though … reality is being consumed."
That's a visionary notion, and it sits at the center of "The Angel Esmeralda," as it does throughout DeLillo's work. As for the stories, some are more realized than others — "Midnight in Dostoevsky" and "The Starveling," especially, seem a little forced, despite what they have to say about the contradictions of narrative — but that's only to be expected from 30 years of odds and ends. More to the point is that in this collection, as in his novels, DeLillo challenges us to see a world defined by our projections, a world in which the only reality is the one we create. Or, as he asserts here: "In our privatest mind … there is only chaos and blur. We invented logic to beat back our creatural selves."
"The Angel Esmeralda: Nine Stories"
By Don DeLillo
Scribner, 212 pages, $24